By Felipe Leon
Photos: Diego Morales
If Ivan “Nino Maravilla” Morales (17-0, 12KOs) would have been a little better with his feet instead of his hands, the Morales clan would more than likely have their first star of the soccer field instead of the undefeated super flyweight he has developed into chasing history as he along with his brothers, seven-time world champion Erik “Terrible” Morales and former 115 lbs. division champ Diego “Pelucho” Morales, look to become the first set of three siblings to capture a world title. Ivan will take his next step towards that goal this Saturday night when he makes his United States debut versus the hard hitting Luis “Titi” Maldonado (36-9-1, 27KOs). Morales’ WBC Silver International super flyweight title will be on the line in the ten round main event which will be televised by Telefutura’s “Solo Boxeo Tecate” and held at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California.
“I would dream of being a professional soccer player,” the twenty-year old southpaw said of his childhood. “One day my father and brothers told me that whatever I wanted to do, to do it, enjoy it and try to be the best.”
Morales played soccer locally until the age of sixteen. By then Ivan had already had a handful of amateur bouts but not until that age did he begin to train and commit seriously to the sport as he amassed a respectable 32-4 amateur career before his pro debut in ’09 by knocking out Cristian Zavala. “It was a completely different experience that any I had felt before. All the adrenaline, the emotion, the nerves were something new for me. Even to this day it continues to be almost similar but now I have the advantage of experience, the security of my preparation.”
Trained by his former champion brother Diego along with the obvious pointers from Erik and their father Jose “Olivaritos” Morales, Ivan began to collect knock out wins as he traveled all over Mexico making a name for himself. In his last bout, Ivan captured the WBC Silver International 115 lbs. title with a first round KO of Edgar Martinez last April.
From the same tough Tijuana neighborhood of the Zona Norte, tall, lean and with the obvious Morales head and waist movement, it is no surprise that Ivan is constantly compared to his older siblings, a fact that doesn’t bother him. “I think that if I am compared to them, I take from both of them. At the end it is them who I learn from and who teach me. I consider myself a technical fighter but at the same time a brawler because I like to give a show and I want the people to have fun while I have fun inside the ring.”
The bout will not only mark Morales’ first time in an American ring but also his first fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner, a relationship that despite planned for quite some time, only began earlier this summer.
“This has been in the works since 2010 when they started to work with Box Latino and it turned out well,” Morales explained. The moment came when I had to make a decision and believe that I made the right decision and now I work with Golden Boy. It is another dream come true. It is very motivating. Since I started fighting I always wanted to fight in the US and sign with a major promoter and on September 8th that will come true.”
With out any recognizable names on his ledger, “Titi” Maldonado should prove the toughest opponent to date for Morales. The thirty-four year veteran from Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, has faced a vast array of the smaller weight classes in a career that began when Ivan was seven years old. Maldonado has stepped in the ring with such names as Cristian Mijares, Vic Darchinyan, Nonito Donaire, Fernando Montiel and owns a win over former world champion Tomas “Gusano” Rojas.
Morales began his camp in Tijuana but soon found himself in Mazatlan, Mexico, under the watchful eye of physical education professor for the University of Sinaloa, Marcos Hernandez and his son Radames. Together they are known as two of the best strength and conditioning coaches of Mexico. Morales also used the opportunity to spar recent jr. flyweight title challenger Pedro Guevara as well as Alberto Guevara, Roberto Loaiza and Alejandro Guerra. After four weeks of work in the humidity of the coastal town, Ivan returned to Tijuana to finish off the camp with Diego. The change of scenery and training methods is something that Morales is more than confident will help him against the experience of Maldonado.
“He is a fighter with a lot of experience. I think he has faced the best in the flyweight and super flyweight divisions but I think the difference will be my hunger, my heart,” the confident Morales said. “He doesn’t have the hunger that I have, the heart that I have and in reality, the skills that I have despite the experience that he has. I think that you will see a higher boxing level from Ivan Morales than ‘Titi’ Maldonado.”
Despite considering himself the more technical of the two, Morales is conscious that fourteen year old veteran will try to use his experience to frustrate him, “I think he is going to want to use all of his experience. Make me work every round. When I land a hard shot to the head or body, he is going to clinch. Those type of tactics don’t scare me. I expect for him to fight clean and if he does or if he wants to go toe to toe, I am sure I am going to beat him by a wide margin.”
In boxing, it is not enough to have speed, power and the skill to land punches on your opponent with out him landing punches on you. Most of the time, if not all the time, to be a true great, one must have the intangibles like charisma, heart and looks to become a world champion. Many sons, cousins, nephews and siblings of former or current champions are compelled to lace up the gloves in search of some if not more glory than their relative and more often than not, they are unfairly compared. For Ivan, the pressure is two fold if not ten because he is the younger brother of not one but two world champions. One of which is Erik “Terrible” Morales, a fighter who is the very definition of those afore mentioned “intangibles”.
Surprisingly, according to Ivan, he is only sporadically reminded of what the pressure it might mean to be a “Morales”.
Only when I am asked by the press,” he says with a chuckle. “They are excellent teachers and it is a privilege for them to teach me. At fight time it is not pressure because they never get in the ring for me, Ivan Morales goes up in the ring and that is something that is always on my mind.”